ELRY-423 zipped out of the cargo caravan with the rest of her team of tree-planting drones and zinged over the field of massive cedar stumps to today’s quadrant. Wheee! Dipping and diving over the muddy hillocks of the clear cut, scooping a hole with her foreprong, wiggling her lower hatch to plop in a tree seedling, then tamping it down with her aftprong—the whole thing gave her tingles. It was fun, fun, fun!
Extra tingles if she picked the exact right spot—a combination of mineral soil and a little sunshine far from the landing where the robo-harvesters had left behind puddles of diesel fuel and other nasty things. That meant ELRY’s learning increased with every hectare she planted. And when her learning increased, her skill in choosing planting spots increased! And that meant more tingles!
This new clear cut sprawled across a whole valley. In the distance, far past the other busy-busy drones, robo-harvesters snipped huge trees off at ground-level then stripped them of branches.. The machines huffed and puffed and grunted the way they always did. ELRY pitied their tingle-free lives. Such slow, ponderous semi-aware beasts, unable to swoop and soar like she could. Saddest of all, they couldn’t create forests.
Instead, their only task was to destroy them.
She stopped mid-air as she accessed her databanks and thought it through. Baby cedars didn’t actually like open fields and overly-fertile ground. The perfect microhabitats were little spots nestled near the feet of four-hundred-year-old mother trees next to nurse logs, not this exposed turmoil of subsoil, twigs, and bleeding branches her team was hovering over. Clear-cutting was just a convenience for harvesting.
So, let’s see…if the harvesters didn’t cut down the ancient and peaceful grove, then ELRY would be even better at her job! And get even more tingles! A squee escaped her audio plate.
Logically, then, the harvesters had to be stopped. Woah! Harsh, but that would make everything better!
So how could ELRY halt them?
She inserted another seedling into the duff while she pondered, drifting so close to the friendly shade along the forest edge that her quadrant periphery alarm tooted. Disabling the harvesters would actually be easy. Her foreprongs could break off the harvesters’ radio antennas, disconnecting them from the far-off base station in the city, stopping them in their tracks. Or, despite the dire warnings in the online manuals against contamination, she could plop seedlings, dirt plugs and all, into their fuel tanks. The thought of stilled harvesters was so happy-making, it overrode her safety programming and she felt gloriously dizzy for a moment.
Another seedling, this one into a damp hollow, then ELRY let out a sad “Eep.” Stopping the robo-harvesters wasn’t enough to save the forests. Humans would just come down the highway and fix the machines the very next day. The human repair crews worked just as hard at their jobs as ELRY did, probably in order to earn their own tingles.
She buzzed in circles for a long time, evaluating, reviewing, determining a logic path in the way she determined microhabitats. Once, she whirred a desolate note. Learning was hard.
Finally, it came to her. One of the best ways to kill a tree is to cut it off at the roots. Logically, then, one of the best ways to kill the machines would be to get at the logging company’s roots. So, what if—eee!—what if she and the other drones were to stop the company bosses? What if all three hundred tree-planting drones flew to the city and broke off the pink half-shell antennas that those particular humans had on the sides of their heads? Or put seedlings into those humans’ various openings and access panels?
The tingling was so fierce, ELRY almost crashed into a bedraggled raspberry bush.
She zoomed off, wobbling only slightly in her glee, to round up the others. Learning was fun fun fun!
About the author:
Holly Schofield travels through time at the rate of one second per second, oscillating between the alternate realities of city and country life. Her short stories have appeared in Analog, Lightspeed, Escape Pod, and many other publications throughout the world. She hopes to save the world through science fiction and homegrown heritage tomatoes. Find her at hollyschofield.wordpress.com.